When entering college, a lot of students are thrown into unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations when getting used to their new environment. Often, that stress is combined with being a person in a marginalized identity group, making the whole experience even more difficult. At Ohio University, Unified Sisters is a student-run organization that looks to help students in those situations acclimate to college life and find a true sense of community.
Dayna Shoulders, a junior studying accounting, is president of Unified Sisters and said the organization was started in 2000. Shoulders joined the organization when she was a freshman.
Shoulders said the main goal of the organization is to help women of color grow culturally through self-awareness and professional development.
“Our purpose is to create a safe space for women of color here at Ohio University since it is a predominantly white institution,” Shoulders said.
Shoulders said the group meets every Thursday from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Multicultural Center, located on the second floor of Baker University Center. Every week, it plans different events for the meetings to keep them fun and enjoyable. The meetings may include game nights, yoga, scavenger hunts and more.
Shoulders said Unified Sisters means everything to her. When she first arrived at OU, she said she felt out of place, but Unified Sisters took her in, gave her a community to be a part of and made her feel like she belonged. She said she has met some of her closest friends through the organization.
“I went to my first Unified Sisters meeting … and I instantly fell in love with everyone there. They became like my big sisters,” Shoulders said. “I couldn’t walk to a class without one of them shouting my name across the street.”
Brandi Kirkwood, a junior studying community and public health, is vice president of Unified Sisters. She agreed with Shoulders that the organization is a safe space and added it is a group in which every member feels comfortable.
“It’s a space for women, especially women of color, to just come together and be their true selves,” Kirkwood said.
Kirkwood said she is glad she has the opportunity to fill a leadership role. She has the opportunity to help the other members of the organization and said she loves being able to assist her fellow Unified Sisters in any way she can.
Shoulders said the organization has allowed a lot of its members to come out of their shell and try new things they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to do, and providing different opportunities is a critical aspect of Unified Sisters.
Unified Sisters also has the purpose of creating a group with a diverse set of personalities to expose its members to all different kinds of people with whom they can also identify, Shoulders said.
“It’s really hard, especially when you are a minority, to feel like you have an individuality attached to you,” Shoulders said. “So, when you come to our meetings, it’s you as yourself, not as ‘that Black girl.’”
Kirkwood said the organization has given her the chance to meet so many new people, and she is glad to be able to be a role model to so many women within the organization. She believes people should join Unified Sisters because it creates a laid-back environment that can provide so much good for their college experience.
“I feel like a lot of things about college (are) intense, and (with) Unified Sisters, we try to be just the opposite of that,” Kirkwood said. “We try to do a lot of fun things and just create a space for people to relax and be who they are.”
One first-year member who has already felt the impact of Unified Sisters is Hadiya Ray, a freshman studying business.
Ray said she joined Unified Sisters during the second week of the semester, and she felt an immediate connection with the organization and its members.
She said her experience with the club so far has allowed her to meet so many incredible people and be exposed to a true sense of community.
“Being around this group of women is so inspiring. I can’t describe the feeling that I get being a part of this club,” Ray said. “Just looking around and seeing women encouraging (and) lifting each other up that feeling alone is unmatchable.”
Ultimately, Ray believes Unified Sisters has a lot to offer to its members, and it is a place where women of color, no matter their background, can feel empowered. She said even for the short amount of time she has been involved, the organization has already had a large impact on her life.
“Anybody who takes part in this club is in for such an incredible sisterhood,” Ray said. “They will learn, grow, experience and be encouraged with such a community that is like no other.”